Thursday 27 April 2023

Evensong: Not Dark Yet

 Not Dark yet - but it's gettin' there.

Written by Bob Dylan, 1997.

This wonderfully lush version, with amazing photos is by Smith and Gascho

Piano - Joe Gascho
Vocals - Larry Smith
Audio Engineer - Andy Peterson  

Here's how it should be done, though:
Bob Dylan taking all the leads, with Eric Clapton looking on and learning.

Christopher Ricks wrote a lengthy analysis of Not Dark Yet in which he compared it to  "Ode to a Nightingale" by John Keats, whose narrator is also "half in love with easeful Death". Ricks argues that "similar turns of phrase, figures of speech, [and] felicities of rhyming" can be found throughout "Not Dark Yet" and the Ode. Ricks also argues that "there is a strong affinity with Keats in the way that in the song night colours, darkens, the whole atmosphere while never being spoken of".  Dylan's theme is 'It's not dark yet, but it's getting there'. "He bears it and bares it beautifully, with exquisite precision of voice, dry humour, and resilience, all these in the cause of fortitude at life's going to be brought to an end by death".
Critic Matthew Wilkening rated "Not Dark Yet" as the 3rd best song Dylan recorded between 1992 and 2011, praising it as "a stately, surprisingly clear-sung accounting of a painful life from a man who sees the end closing in on him.
The line "She wrote me a letter and she wrote it so kind" is a quote from the traditional folk song "Red River Shore".
The line "I was born here and I'll die here against my will" is a paraphrase of a Talmudic passage from the Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), Chapter 4, verse 22: "Let not your heart convince you that the grave is your escape; for against your will you are formed, against your will you are born, against your will you live, against your will you die, and against your will you are destined to give a judgement and accounting before the king, king of all kings, the Holy One, blessed be He".
Here's Keats' Ode to a Nightingale

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,—
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
Cluster'd around by all her starry Fays;
But here there is no light,
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
Fast fading violets cover'd up in leaves;
And mid-May's eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
To thy high requiem become a sod.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that oft-times hath
Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is fam'd to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?

Here's Dylan's Not Dark Yet

Shadows are fallin' and I've been here all day
It's too hot to sleep and time is runnin' away
Feel like my soul has turned into steel
I've still got the scars that the sun didn't heal
There's not even room enough to be anywhere
It's not dark yet but it's gettin' there
Well, my sense of humanity has gone down the drain
Behind every beautiful thing there's been some kind of pain
She wrote me a letter and she wrote it so kind
She put down in writin' what was in her mind
I just don't see why I should even care
It's not dark yet but it's gettin' there
Well, I've been to London and I been to gay Paree
I've followed the river and I got to the sea
I've been down on the bottom of the world full of lies
I ain't lookin' for nothin' in anyone's eyes
Sometimes my burden is more than I can bear
It's not dark yet but it's gettin' there
I was born here and I'll die here against my will
I know it looks like I'm movin' but I'm standin' still
Every nerve in my body is so naked and numb
I can't even remember what it was I came here to get away from
Don't even hear the murmur of a prayer
It's not dark yet but it's gettin' there.

Now, I know fine well that Dylan had more than a touch of the Autolycus about him, but I'm really not going along with Ricks' analysis. Not even the rhyming scheme is similar - Dylan goes for simple rhyming couplets, whereas Keats has a mad (but satisfying) scheme: here you go:

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains  A
         My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,  B
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains  A
         One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:  B
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,  C
         But being too happy in thine happiness,—  D
                That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees  E
                        In some melodious plot  C
         Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,  D
                Singest of summer in full-throated ease.  E

 I am informed that the last 6 lines follow the rhyme scheme of a Petrarchan sonnet's sestet. 
 I'm rather fond of  Nightingale, often calling for a beaker full of the warm South myself, and occasionally a vintage tasting of Flora and the green country, but cooled by the fridge rather than the deep-delved earth, if I've got chicken or fish on the menu. It is a bit girly though, whereas Dylan is going for something altogether darker and more fixin' to die. Keats wrote Nightingale when he was 24 and Dylan wrote Not Dark Yet when he was 56, so maybe there's some issues of maturity going on there. In fact, Keats would be dead two years after Nightingale, whereas Dylan ain't dead yet, 26 years after recording the song.
Basically, though, comparing a poem with a song lyric is a hiding to no town. Shorn of the geetar and the raspy Dylan voice (or in Larry Smith's case, deep, mellifluous tones), the song lyric becomes a lonely orphan.


mongoose said...

He's a bit over arch is Bob 'live'. Seen hims several times and he's like a gurning impersonator of himself. I suppose that he has got bored with himself over the years. Mr i and I had a conversation once about it all and the consensus we arrived at was that proper artists should be strangled after their fifth album. Nobody has enough ideas to do 6. The odd track such as this one pokes its nose out but there is not enough puff for a whole album. The original album version btw is very fine, as is the cover by the chaps above.

mrs ishmael said...

Beethoven kept churning them out, though - nine symphonies, 32 piano sonatas, 16 string quartets, an opera and lots of bits and pieces. All of them worth a listen. Seductive as it is to contemplate strangulation as the ultimate critical judgement, I can't go along with the mongoosian/ishmaelian consensus.
Although, as mr ish was fond of commenting: never have so many been sung at by even more many.

Anonymous said...

Quite agree about the tenuous case for close comparison with Keats. Silly old Ricks. (Though he did parlay all that guff into a juicy academic career, so whaddo I know?)


Dick the Prick said...

Here goes, I have been asked so rude not to.

I first came across Mr Smith in about 2005 as Stanislav, a young polish plumber. Fair enough, that Pimlico cunt needs an house brick. Bit of frsutration on the internet, bit of anger in cyberwhatsit? No need for that, just communication tool innit? Cyber grafitti? Share thoughts and stuff.

Cop out review: Art - the man was art. Each word chosen. I think about him every day.

Been asked to do book review and ting xx

Dick the Prick said...

He loved his music. I reckon Captain Beefheart was his fave although he introduced me to Chopin and stuff xx

Dick the Prick said...

Anonymous said...

Good to see you again, mr DTP. Not a cop out to call it Art, I reckon.

Do we need to bring out a revised Vent Stack? I had stanislav's first appearance as August 2007. If you remember seeing him somewhere else before that, please do tell.

Good song - La Roux looks like a trans Culkin.



Bungalow Bill said...

Ricks is/was brilliant, but deranged on Dylan. The lesser known, but also brilliant, Eric Griffiths was similarly weird on Talking Heads.

But are there objective aesthetic hierarchies? Nope. So it's all fair enough.

Fucking hell, you know, everything's too tricky.

Bungalow Bill said...

Just checked; Griffiths was a Ricks' protege and liked Dylan as well as TH. Wikipedia.

He spent the last 7 years of his life stricken post-stroke. What can you say, what could he say? Random, brutal passions are he stuff of life, after all.